A growing body of research is giving credibility to the widely held belief that nature can improve health.
“The belief that nature is beneficial for people with illness dates back centuries and is consistent across cultures, (researcher Robert) Ulrich notes. There are several theories, he says, that attempt to explain people’s affinity for nature.
Learning theories hypothesize that people associate relaxation with nature, for example during vacations. They acquire stressful associations with urban environments because of aspects like traffic, work and crime. Other scientists argue that built environments are overly taxing to people’s senses because of high levels of noise and visual complexity. Nature settings are not as arousing and therefore less stressful.
Proponents of an evolutionary theory believe that humans may have a genetic readiness to respond positively to nature such as vegetation and water because these
things were favorable to survival during some two to three million years of evolution.
Whatever the case may be, the capability of gardens to improve health arises mainly from their effectiveness as stress reducing and buffering resources, Ulrich notes.
And while gardens have the potential to help patients and staff cope with stressful scenarios, not any garden will do, Ulrich emphasizes. To be effective in reducing stress, Ulrich has found that gardens must address four main areas: promoting a sense of control, encouraging social support, offering opportunities for physical movement and providing access to natural distractions. “